Defence Minister Rajnath Singh met the military brass Friday for another review of the situation in eastern Ladakh where the Chinese, while agreeing to withdraw from some points along the Line of Actual Control, have so far not responded to Indian concerns over Pangong Tso. The faceoff between the two armies continues there.
It was on the banks of this contested lake that Indian and Chinese troops came to blows on the night of May 5-6, triggering deployment of troops by both sides at multiple points along the LAC in eastern Ladakh.
Indian Army sources told The Indian Express Friday that though the Chinese have accepted India’s views about other points in the region, they have not accepted or responded to Indian concerns over the ground situation in Pangong Tso — not even at the June 6 meeting between XIV Corps Commander Lt General Harinder Singh and South Xinjiang Military District Commander Major General Liu Lin.
In Pangong Tso, Chinese troops are not allowing Indian patrols beyond Finger 4 – it is 8 km west of Finger 8 which India says denotes the LAC.
“At all other places, our contentions have been accepted,” Army sources said, but on Pangong Tso, “they haven’t accepted our contention at all… there is no visible response from their side… (troops are) going to stay longer at that point”.
As reported by The Indian Express, satellite imagery from May 27 showed that the Chinese had “substantial” presence between Finger 4 and Finger 8, a grey area which used to be patrolled by both armies earlier. India wants restoration of status quo ante – that the Chinese vacate the grey area.
Army sources said the first hint came last year when Indian troops, who used to patrol the road along the north bank of the lake, were stopped by Chinese troops multiple times from reaching Finger 8 between August and September.
In the second week of September, sources said, Indian troops began taking an alternate track to reach Finger 8 on foot, going behind the Finger 4 hill. This was objected to by the Chinese.
A former officer who served in the area said it is not uncommon for both sides to intercept each other’s patrol party and stop it from completing its objective — for Indian troops, patrolling has to be till Finger 8, and for the Chinese troops, the objective is to reach Finger 4.
But now, Chinese troops have blocked all access to the area beyond Finger 4, effectively taking control of approximately 60 sq. km.
On Friday, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh held another review meeting in Delhi with Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, Army chief General MM Naravane, Navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh and IAF chief Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria.
Following the June 6 meeting between commanders of the two armies at the Chushul-Moldo border point, there has been some retreat by both sides at a few points in Galwan and Hot Spring areas, but the roadmap for further easing of the situation is still to be discussed.
Divisional commanders of the two sides met Wednesday. Army sources said the date for the next discussion has not yet been confirmed. “Negotiations will be slow, and will take some time,” sources said.